Richard K. Morgan
Del Rey, 2011.
I really don’t know what to make of this series. I’m enjoying them, a lot in the case of The Cold Commands.
But I feel like I’m missing something.
Richard K. Morgan’s “Land Fit for Heroes” trilogy follows a trio of embittered former war heroes as they try to find their place in a world that no longer respects them, or appreciates their sacrifices.
The first installment, The Steel Remains, introduced us to the trio — Ringil, a gay scion of a wealthy Northern family; Egar, a barbarian chief disillusioned with his nomadic life; and Archeth, the last of a race of supernatural beings who aided humanity during the last war — and chronicled their reunion to fight the demonic dwenda, an exiled magical race bent on reconquering the world.
The Cold Commands picks up a year later. Ringil is raiding slave caravans while Egar is guarding Archeth’s home in the Imperial capital. Archeth is off investigating a mysterious creature, called a Helmsman, with ties to her ancestral race, the Kiriath. The heroes are inexorably pulled together and must once again save humanity from the dwenda and even greater evil.
The biggest issue I had with The Cold Commands was that it felt like a lengthy prologue. While The Steel Remains had a certain finality even as it introduced the series, The Cold Commands was more setting up the finale, The Dark Defiles, which hits stores next week.
And the alternating POV was awkward at times — I kept wanting the story to linger on one character or just around to getting everyone together. I don’t mind multiple POVs, it is necessary when the action is jumping from different locations, but this often felt like I was rotating our gaze in rhythm rather than following a POV to a natural stopping point.
And while I don’t mind sex in a book, must Ringil fuck everyone he runs across? I generally appreciate the way Morgan handles his LGBT characters, and the way he portrays their treatment in society. But it seems that whenever Ringil meets a man, they exchange glances and are immediately in bed. The book does a great job at dealing with the unstated prejudices of society – even Ringil’s closest companions look down on homosexuality.
He stopped. Blinked at the honorific. In the best part of eight months, he’d never heard Eril use it to anyone. He turned back.
“I, uh, wanted to say. All that shit they say about you? The corruptor-of-youth stuff, the queer thing. Just wanted to say. I always knew they were a bunch of lying fucks. Knew it wasn’t true. You’re no faggot.” He swallowed. “Sire.”
And as you can see, the dialogue felt like something out of a Guy Ritchie movie, rather than an epic fantasy.
Perhaps Morgan’s trilogy is more of a commentary or parody of epic fantasy — everything is overcharged almost to the point of absurdity. But it is also atypical compared to classic works, e.g. Ringil’s sexuality. And maybe Ringil’s sex scenes are so jarring because they are atypical — these are the only fantasy novels I’ve read with such graphic gay sex. Lev Grossman mentioned one of his character’s homosexuality in the Magicians Trilogy, and teased around his promiscuity, but never so graphically addressed it.
Is it a thought experiment or simply a violent, graphic fantasy? Honestly, I don’t care. I enjoyed The Cold Commands tremendously. Even if it did sometimes move slowly it was still a thrilling read. While none of the fights were as epic as the last battle in The Steel Remains, they were still riveting. The slow burn of the plot development still kept me interested – more than in The Steel Remains. And I found that I started to care about the characters a lot more in The Cold Commands.
— Michael Senft